Lean App Developer

Being lean = less waste

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, there’s another great piece on the importance of “Being Lean.” Learning from Eric Ries, Steve Blank, David Cohen & Brad Feld and many others really drives home the point that startups should move faster, focus on developing customers and testing hypotheses. We are huge proponents of the lean methodology, as evidenced by our presentation at the Lean Startup Seattle pitch event.

They’re not just lessons in books, however – every successful app developer we’re working with has an incredible focus on 3 important things:

  • Finding their core customers,
  • Figuring out how to make them happier,
  • Focusing on the things they care about the most.

A major benefit of the lean methodology is that you AVOID building features that customers don’t want. We think that this is extremely relevant to app developers because users expect applications to just work. The more complex you make your app in a vacuum, the more hypotheses you’re making about users’ wants and needs. This tends to result in apps that are confusing and overly burdensome on new app users. So, we urge you to keep your apps simple to begin with and to learn and grow with your customers in order to be more successful and efficient.

Customer service & communication: your secret weapon

At Apptentive, we are driven to provide powerful yet simple tools for direct customer communication so that app developers can build the best apps possible. When done well, customers don’t need to be “sold” or “marketed to”, they just need to try your app out for themselves and let it speak to them. Customer communication is absolutely vital to the process of innovation: it allows you to learn. Information directly from consumers about what’s working for them and what is causing friction helps you assess your execution against your goals.

We came across an interview with Eric Ries on the Assistly blog that was incredibly relevant to how we think about customer communication and app development. Eric addresses why customer service is critical to learning (emphasis ours):

ABS: How would you rate the role of customer service and support in the lean startup?

It’s very, very important, but it must be understood correctly. In larger companies customer service is seen as a cost center, a necessary evil, not related to the mission. Marketing and product development are outbound functions, and customer service is seen strictly as inbound. That’s extremely shortsighted because we’re really better off trying to have a deep understanding of the customer and their behaviors. Customer service is really a learning function.

We can do so much more to integrate support into product development to tighten that loop. It’s easy to say but hard to do. Most companies do not have a way to value this “validated learning.” At the end of the day you can have all your slogans, but what are you actually doing?  You need actionable data. That’s why I advocate the tenets of the lean startup—rapid experimentation, shorter development cycles, and measuring actual progress to learn what customers really want.

Learning from customers has never been easier

Today’s consumer environment has trained people to speak up and share their thoughts and opinions any time, any where. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, their blog or directly in your app, customers expect to be heard when they speak up. This means that as an app developer you have a huge advantage: simple solicitations of feedback are consistent with user expectations. You don’t have to teach customers to help you out – they’re ready and waiting for you to ask and listen.

Your opportunity awaits you – are you going to trust Eric, Steve, Brad, David and the rest of the people urging you to listen to your customers?

(for those of you totally unfamiliar with the lean startup principles, we suggest stepping through the slides below, they’re very helpful and a quick overview)

Lean Startup presentation for Maples Investments by Steve Blank and Eric Ries

View more presentations from Eric Ries

Robi Ganguly Updated: October 10th, 2011